National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who were the standouts in Matchday 8?

Young Players - Matchday 8 - Ruiz

Kids marked themselves onto stats sheets across MLS over the weekend, with goal contributions that proved to be difference-makers in several games. Conversely, we also witnessed plenty of quietly effective defensive work, including the matchday’s most head-turning scoreline, where a familiar giant finally showed its power for the first time in 2024.

Here are the top performances among players under the age of 22 in MLS Matchday 8.

After looking like Wooden Spoon contenders for the season’s first month, the Verde & Black have suddenly won two in a row. And even though they came against the bottom two sides in the Western Conference table, it’s been a marked upturn in performance from ATX, with their 19-year-old midfielder a chief protagonist.

Wolff was consistently incisive with the ball in that crazy 4-3 comeback win over San Jose, completing 43/47 passes (92%) and playing a team-high four key passes. He took all of his team’s 10 corner kicks, won the majority of his nine ground duels and tabbed five defensive actions.

Is it coincidence that “Teen Wolff” balled out just days after getting the feature treatment from my colleague Andy Deossa in the inaugural edition of The Pathway presented by Allstate, our new series documenting the challenges and breakthroughs young prospects experience as they climb the developmental ladder? Maybe, but why take a chance? Dig deeper into the story of Owen, head coach Josh Wolff’s middle son, here:

The Herons’ homegrown is a Honduran international, but we’re dubbing him Tata Martino’s Swiss Army Knife, because of the multiple positions and roles he’s handled with maturity beyond his 20 years since becoming a first-team regular.

On Saturday he thrived as a right back in Miami’s 2-2 home draw with Colorado, shaking off his nightmare outing in the midweek Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal first-leg duel with CF Monterrey to produce a Team of the Matchday-recognized display.

Ruiz combined with Leo Messi as he served up the assist on Leo Afonso’s equalizing goal, Ruiz’s first helper in 2024 league action, and passed at a 78% clip overall. Amid 68 overall touches, he also won 7/8 tackles, 10/14 ground duels and made seven recoveries and 12 overall defensive actions.

You know what they say about set pieces, right? Well, OK, we suppose they’re just saying ‘set pieces’ three times in a row, at least when it comes to the most prominent North American pundits who talk most often about the power of restarts.

While that might not earn any extra points for creativity, the main point remains: Perhaps no aspect of the game so consistently decides matches around this league, particularly in closely-matched affairs like Philly’s last-gasp 2-1 comeback victory over Nashville SC at GEODIS Park, their third straight win. And the DOOPers have McGlynn to thank for the game-winning assist from just such a restart, delivered via corner kick on Dániel Gazdag’s 90th-minute header.

That was one of four McGlynn corners in the final stages, all of them causing some measure of discomfort among NSC. The 20-year-old also probed and prodded with his trademark left-footed distribution during the run of play, completing 24 of 28 passes, three of them chance creators. The homegrown also won 3/6 ground duels, both of his two aerial battles and drew a foul.

Can you believe this kid is still just 18 years young?

Sure, just about everyone in Rave Green played well as the Sounders finally produced the caliber of soccer their fans are accustomed to seeing in a 5-0 rout of CF Montréal that constitutes a vital first W of their campaign. Yet with so many older, bigger names around him, Vargas’ influence might just be heftier than he gets credit for.

The teenager helped set the tone in the engine room alongside his fellow academy product Josh Atencio, and showed some attacking chops with a fluid carry into the final third before slotting a perfectly-weighted through ball to Cristian Roldan to tab a secondary assist (his first helper of the year) on Jordan Morris’ nasty backheel-flicked finish.

Vargas totaled 72 touches, completed passes at a 93% clip, won the majority of his 11 ground duels, drew five fouls and made nine recoveries in a full-90 outing.

We’re inclined to believe that ‘Guti’ is simply too talented to be sitting on the bench when the opening whistle blows on Fire matches, but some credit is due to Frank Klopas for playing his cards right as the young’un proved a matchwinner in his first substitute outing of the season.

Gutiérrez needed only 12 touches in 21 or so minutes to change the game on Saturday, looking lively overall and sniffing out a clever, brave finish for the game-winner against the Houston Dynamo at Soldier Field.

Klopas and others have urged the homegrown to conjure up more end product this year and so far he’s responded: That tally over the weekend is his third goal in the 473 minutes he's played thus far in '24, already eclipsing his two goals in 2,399 minutes last season.

Honorable mentions

Caleb Wiley: Atlanta United’s US youth international left back was excellent in the 1-1 draw with New York City FC at Citi Field, completing 27 of 35 passes, 11 recoveries and nine defensive actions in a steady outing that keeps him on course for the US Olympic squad this summer.

Quinn Sullivan: Like McGlynn, Sullivan tabbed an assist in the win over Nashville, battling tenaciously and thinking quickly as he dug out a second ball after an aerial challenge and squared to Julián Carranza for Philly’s opening goal.

Julián Aude: Congrats to the LA Galaxy’s left back for scoring his first career MLS goal, a well-taken follow-up that equalized for his team in Saturday’s rugged El Tráfico vs. LAFC. The young Argentine also played one key pass, drew three fouls and won most of his duels.